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Tenets of Videodreams, Part 2: Rejection of Goals or Meaning
by Robin Arnott on 05/30/13 07:51:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Last week on this blog I began exploring what I see as an emerging videogame genre that I call VideoDreams. Some examples of VideoDreams are ProteusPixejunk 4amPanoramicalFrequency Domain, and our own experiment, SoundSelf. If you know of other VideoDreams, please let me know, as I would like to play them.

As a VideoDream developer myself, I'm interested in the patterns unifying the dream-like experiences that have been most inspiring to me. I began last week looking at explorative gameplay. This week I'll be exploring two unique ways that VideoDreams facilitate a sensually powerful moment with systems that don't necessitate, or even outright discourage, an intellectual engagement.

Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Goals

Goals are almost completely taken for granted in computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (erm... videogames). Given all of the possible enriching  interactive experiences one can imagine though, why have we settled so comfortably on goals as the backbone of player experience - rather than experience as the backbone of player experience and goals as a useful tool for facilitating certain experiences? I suspect this is because computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (blah blah videogames) are necessarily framed by rules and systems from creation by nature of being computer-programmed, so it's an elegant step to make player experience consciously focused on exploiting those rules and systems.

Videodreams reject implicit or explicit goals and focus the player's awareness on the present, or at least the near-present. This is not necessarily an outright rejection of goals, but a rethinking of how goals fit into the overall experience. In Proteus, the player may choose a free flow of self-defined goals like "I want to get to the top of this hill" and then "I want to see where this frog is going", but because the system does not provide extrinsic valuation of these short-term goals, they are subject to the player's whimsy and pleasure.

It is currently my belief that any goal, even player-defined ones, draw the player into thinking about the future rather than staying grounded in sensuous appreciation of the moment. Creating an experience where even player-defined goals evaporate as quickly as they form is one of our goals in developing SoundSelf. Whether or not we can sustain the player's sense of wonder while limiting dramatic use of anticipation and expectation, though, has yet to be seen. Can we be simultaneously zen and awesome?

Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Meaning

As leaving behind implicit or explicit goals has given the player room to follow their whimsy, so leaving behind implicit and explicit meaning gives them room to provide their own context. Save for UI elements, these games reject symbolism and intentional meaning in favor of hollow sounds and shapes. It's interesting to me that of the games I've listed, only Proteus includes explicit recognizable forms (trees, flowers, hills).

All objects have the capacity to generate meaning. A number floating in the top left corner of the screen means (to most players) a score that spirals the player into focusing on making it go up. A gun means (to most players) an object for destructive interaction with an environment, and spirals the player into looking for things to shoot. Simple shapes aren't free from these meanings, but they bring less baggage.

Because a videodream attempts to engage the player sensuously, it's important the dream not distract the senses with an intellectual puzzle. The storytelling impulse is so strong in humans that the slightest loose-string invites intellectual spiraling that can draw the player's attention away from moment. 

On the other hand, providing a blank canvas free from meaning offers the player an opportunity to project their mind and dance with a reflection of themselves.

Part 1: Exploration

Part 3: Musicality

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TC Weidner
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I like where you are headed with this. In a few years with hopefully the oculus rift, we may all have wonderful little "digitally created parks" to wander around in get lost in, explore and discover. Imagine the wonderful vistas, beaches, waterfalls, etc etc that could be created for users to explore, and the best part, you wouldnt have to fight traffic, deal with bugs, summer heat, etc to enjoy it all.

I think virtual mini hikes, vacations, and even dreams are all coming sooner rather than later thanks to developers like Robin and technology like the oculus.

Joe E
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good stuff.
something that just came to mind is that once you remove goals, then input doesn't have to be as precise either (soundself being a prime example, input being voice). if players don't have the expectation of something happening to the system in reaction to a particular input, they can take a more relaxed approach, sort of "I'll take what the system gives me because it's beautiful". So from that, two things fall: the output needs to be beautiful enough to hold interest, and input needs to be able to make the output more so. again, like a musical instrument.
and while talking about input, have you heard of the PEAR research line?
what if these systems could react, even minimally, to human intention itself? now you're talking crazy...

John Flush
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Interesting to know the reasoning behind it. I recently played Proteus due to it being in the humble indie bundle. I wasn't in the train of mind to enjoy it however at the time I played it as I was looking for context or 'something to do'. I tried to chase chickens, follow the owl, walk all the paths to get to the stone statues. etc... but all I ended up doing was the same thing you do to exit the island... close my eyes (holding escape...). When I came to, I went do bed. I haven't fell asleep playing a game since my last attempt at playing Zelda and this did it in 30 minutes. Oh well...

Kenneth Blaney
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I'd like to mention "The Real Texas" as a candidate for the emerging videodream genre. It does a number of dream like things which I felt were similar to the novel "Phantastes".

Llaura Mcgee
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This sounds like a really interesting book, any thoughts on it and perhaps in relation to what we're talking about here?

(*heads off to order it* :P)

Robin Arnott
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(*also heads off to order it*)

Felix Hanser
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Don't remember the actual name, so a bit rough here: Something like "Dance of Ariadne", more of an ambient experiment. you were not supposed to do anything, just walking around a party in mythological context and watch this character dance (she was going to be killed the next day and just danced or something like that). Got good critics as a dreamlike/reflective experience...

Llaura Mcgee
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Was this 'Fatale' by Tale of Tales? An under-appreciated gem.

Llaura Mcgee
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Videodreams, I could get behind that name. :)

Even when abandoning explicit/implicit meaning surely there's still a feeling an author wants to communicate? A great work acts as a mirror like you say, that illuminates yourself. Games are particularly well placed to leverage this, let's see more. Of course in any creation it's impossible to completely remove the fingerprint of the author, it will be visible in what you can/cannot do, in the framing. Therefore it can be a dance with yourself but under the light provided, so it is always a dialogue too. What we can do as game creators, like you are trying, is to give as much a voice to the audience as possible and move the balance into more interesting directions than typical.

Great wee piece, looking forward to the next.